Sunday. Race Day.

Woke up nice and early on Sunday, ‘race day’. I felt better, but I knew I was probably only about 75% recovered . That is if you can accurately measure recovery from illness. I headed downstairs for breakfast with the only other London ‘buddy’ staying in the same hotel as myself. We finished breakfast and together we rode the few hundred meters to the starting and loading ‘chutes’. Each rider was allocated a start time and group and although he had an earlier start time, we decided to try and ‘blag’ my way into his earlier starting group. The Cycle Tour officials were far too smart and hard for that. No amount of London charm could get me into his earlier group. Ahh well, I waved him ‘goodbye’, wished him good luck and found a spot to wait the 53 odd minutes for my allocated starting group.

I filled this period by observing the thousands of cyclists and their bikes, taking pictures and generally soaking in the atmosphere. What struck me again was the immense diversity of those taking part. Men, women, the disabled, fathers-and-sons tandems, fathers-and-daughters tandems, the super-fit and the not-so-fit and everything in-between. I saw every type of bicycle from £200 pound bikes of indeterminate make and model to £15,000 superbikes. Cycling its seems, is one of the most egalitarian of pastimes.

As my start time of 7:35 approached, I made my way into the starting or loading chute. At 7:35 prompt, the traditional shout to set each group off: “Everybody say HOOOPLA!!!”, “HOOOPLA!!!!” and we were off.

The first 15kms which contain two climbs, is all about setting a rhythm, finding a group to embed in and making sure one does not go out too fast and ‘burn too many matches’. I felt ok but not great. I was not losing too much time on the climbs and on the downhill and flat sections, I was holding my own and frequently ‘pulling’. This set off alarm bells for me. If I was frequently ‘pulling’, it meant I was wasting too much energy and I was not in a fast enough group. I needed a faster group but due to the seeding system, they were long gone. I’d have to do it mostly alone. I kept pushing hoping at least to beat my previous best of 3:59:27 set 2 years before. Due to the illness in the days before the event, I knew my original target time of 3:30 0r below was unrealistic.

I was on track to beat my previous best when, just under 50km’s in I suffered my first ever puncture during a cycling event. And it was almost entirely my fault. I was forced to use a loan set of Knight composite 65 wheels (as one of my ‘race’ wheels had been stolen) and the tire clearances were very tight on my bike and as we rounded a fairly tight corner, I got out of the saddle to accelerate back up to speed, the rear wheel flexed, rubbing the tyre against the frame and bang! went the tyre…All hopes of beating my PB were gone.

I managed to fix the puncture under 15 mins and continued, determined to enjoy the rest of the ride…and I did, I even took pictures on the iconic Chapman’s Peak climb. I’m familiar with this course but the beauty of the countryside and coastal views still took the breath away.

After I climbed Chapman’s peak at a leisurely pace I tackled the fast and exciting descent from Chapmans peak. This is my second favourite part of the course, fast and flowing with stunning coastal views. My favourite part of the course was still to come after the last climbing test of this course, Suikerbossie. Suikerboossie’s fearsome reputation actually has nothing to do with the bald statistics. It is just under 2kms long with an average gradient of 6%. But it comes after 88km of hard racing and so its difficulty is exaggerated by this. You tackle it when you are close to the end of your reserves. I was no longer chasing a time, so I could afford to tackle it at a steady pace.

We swooped down from Suikerbossie into the picturesque Camps Bay beach and as we headed into the Seapoint district, there came a sharp left-hander after a very fast section and it was here that the cyclist just in front of me lost control and crashed heavily at about 50kph. He was flung over and landed with a crack and it was all I could do to avoid him. I had to bunny-hop over one of his wheels.

I just hope he was not one of the 3 cyclists that died in separate incidents that day.

Then it was flat-out to the finish line (while trying to forget the crash I’d just witnessed) and to the end of another Cape Town Cycle Tour.

End of race refreshments

I waited for my hotel ‘buddy’ to finish as I’d passed him somewhere around Camps Bay after an eventful race for him and together we made our way to the usual delightful beach cafe to meet the others and for some much-needed recovery food and drinks. We spent a good few hours there and regaled each other with our individual experiences, mishaps and performances. Most of the buddies achieved their personal targets and some had put in some spectacular rides. MG and  ‘Our Elder’ to name just two. The latter had ridden the course under 3 hours! An astonishing performance.

Continued on page 3.